BMW HP4 Race

By Mark Willis

To say that I was a little bit excited to receive an invite from Trev to throw a leg over BMW’s HP4 race is a massive understatement. I remember seeing the specs on the HP4 Race when it first surfaced on MCNews.com.au (Link), and emailing Trev that day to optimistically ask when the press launch was. In the full knowledge that no company in there right mind would want to let a bunch of has been old racers and journo’s loose on a full thoroughbred race bike. But in life if you don’t ask, you don’t know!

BMW HP Race LHS
BMW HP4 Race
Mark already likes the base S 1000 RR

Lets go back a step, I have had a long term love affair with the S 1000 RR since its inception a decade ago. I was lucky enough to get to throw my leg over the first S 1000 RR in the country when it was just a pre-production model at Eastern Creek back in 2008. That opportunity came around through me previously racing a few rounds of the FX race series on the K 1200 R PowerCup machine. I remember thinking back then just what an animal of an engine the S 1000 R had for a stock production bike.

BMW HP Race Briefing
BMW rider briefing at SMP for customer track day

Since then I have been fortunate to review most of the late model litre capacity sports bikes, and the S 1000 RR has remained pretty much at the top of the pile in my eyes. But enough about the registrable road going versions, lets talk race. HP4 Race!

BMW HP Race Pits
BMW HP4 Race

I was fortunate enough to get 2 x 20 min sessions on the HP4 Race at SMSP on the GP circuit, not enough to really get serious but enough to start tapping a tiny slice of its potential. 

BMW HP4 Race

A mixed bag of emotions circulate as I prepared to go out and get familiar with this exotic beauty. But I will let the numbers speak for themselves. 220 horsepower, 145kg wet and a price tag of $115,000…

BMW HP4 Race
BMW HP4 Race
Is bad Mark going to come out to play..?

So although my ego really wanted to get out on track, get straight down to business and try to crack a sub 1 min30 second lap time (which I think is possible looking at the numbers), I also didn’t want to be “that guy” that walked back to the pits with carbon bits under my arm……….. So the voices inside my helmet are now growing louder…. control your youthful ambitions and old man ability Mark.

BMW HP4 Race
BMW HP4 Race

The track for my first outing was still drying in a couple of spots, which just added to the intensity of getting comfortable on the bike. I really just wanted to get a rough feel for the geometry and power in the first session, and if I could get time perhaps play with some of the electronics.

BMW HP Race Mark Willis
BMW HP4 Race

The bike fires into life and is noticably louder than the road going version, and a little lumpier in its engine feel. It sounds fast!

Electronics are next level!

The 2D dashboard is very easy to read and the electronics are incredibly easy to navigate. On the fly you can easily modify traction control and engine braking.

BMW HP4 Race

Even an old school punter like me managed to make some changes in what doesn’t seem like a very long main straight on this bike!

All electronics can be manipulated and modified even more from the laptop between sessions. The electronics package is just amazing and the amount of adjustment mind boggling.

BMW HP Race Mark Willis
BMW HP4 Race
Close ratio gearbox

Out on track the first main thing I notice is the close ratio gearbox, it’s been a while since I have had one of these at my disposal and the close ratio box makes the bike deceptively fast.

I wasn’t completely blown away by the horsepower and acceleration, but this is partially due to the fact that the rpm doesn’t drop as low between gear changes. It also makes downshifting nicer as the gap between gears is not as large, this makes it easier to keep the bike controlled under heavy braking as you shuffle down through the box.

BMW HP4 Race

The quick shifter is a treat and has the option to be run in either road pattern or race shift. For my sessions I chose to leave it in road pattern which made going up through the gearbox a little more difficult as I didn’t have the lever quite low enough. In an ideal world I would prefer to use a bike like this in race shift but I didn’t want to have to re-train my brain at short notice.  The quick-shift system allows for both up shifts and down shifts to be done without the clutch. The only time you need to use the clutch is exiting the pits. The autoblip on downshifts is great and makes for very smooth corner entry. Its almost like riding an automatic motorcycle!

BMW HP Race Mark Willis
BMW HP4 Race
Time to pit and gather thoughts…

After about 8 laps it was time to return to the pits, debrief and wrap my head around how crazy good this bike is.

BMW HP Race Frame
BMW HP4 Race

We spend around half an hour working through the data from the session. Things have changed for a crew chief these days. Its all about analysing data and seeing where you can adjust the electronics to help with acceleration and tyre life. In the old days, it was more about making a change to the suspension and or geometry, and constantly trying to find a balance and compromise to get best drive and tyre life. Now of course they still have to do that too, but so much of the focus is on the electronics side of the equation. 

BMW HP4 Race
BMW HP4 Race

The amount of information available for dissecting now is almost unfathomable. We didn’t play around much with these settings as there is really no point until you are really starting to gel with the other aspects of the bike, and I was keen to get back on track for the second session and get up to speed.

BMW HP4 Race

Again, I was surprised at how angry the engine feels when it fires into life. Far more aggressive than the standard RR engine and no where near as muffled. Like a race bike should be!

BMW HP Race Mark Willis
BMW HP4 Race
A dry track!

The circuit for the second outing was a lot better, track temperature had come up and it was dry everywhere which allowed me to focus a bit harder on getting some half decent lines going.  I really just wanted to focus on three main points in the limited time I had. Accelerate hard, brake hard and get a feel for the bike under brakes and change of direction.

BMW HP Race
BMW HP4 Race

The base setting and geometry is amazing. The brakes are really powerful offering great feel but probably the biggest thing I started to notice was the weight (or lack of it). This made the bike feel stiff, rigid and precise. It’s the closest thing I have ridden to a GP bike. Its direct nature on turning and the way it hugs the apex are quite mindblowing.

BMW HP Race Mark Willis
BMW HP4 Race
Love not quite fully consummated…

I was by no means anywhere near the braking markers I should have been using but I got going enough to get the feeling of just how hard you can push this bike.

It drives off the corners hard, and the electronics allow you to spin the wheel without feeling any obvious traction control holding you back. The anti-wheelie set to a level that allows you to get the wheel up but not enough to effect maximum acceleration.

That session went way too fast and had me salivating wanting more. I was like a kid in a lolly shop. My love affair with this motorcycle is renewed, strong and unwavering. 

BMW HP4 Race
Why would BMW build a HP4 Race that you can’t register..?

I asked BMW’s marketing man Nigel Harvey as to why BMW would make a motorcycle that was not registerable, not really raceable in most championships, and to such an elite specification and his response was priceless. “Because they can!”

And thank goodness I was able to sample it. It takes a fair bit to impress me as far as race bred motorcycles are concerned but this one certainly did that.

BMW HP4 Race
BMW HP4 Race

You certainly wouldn’t want to throw one down the road and replace that carbon-fibre frame or swingarm. And if you want to keep the machine at peak performance levels BMW have an engine replacement program whereby every 5000km your engine goes back to Germany and a replacement is sent out to go back in your machine. The cost for the engine change? It is one of those occasions whereby if you have to ask, well then you probably can’t afford it, but since you asked… The changeover engine will set you back $24,573, including GST, then add to that around $500 for labour and fluids.


Trev covered the technical angle on the HP4 Race here (Link)

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Mark Willis
Mark Willis has had a long and distinguished career in motorcycle racing across many disciplines. Australian Long Track Champion (1993), Australian Rider of the Year (1996), Australian Supermoto Champion and has won both the Spa and Bol D’Or 24 Hour World Endurance Championship races. Mark finished fourth in the 1997 Australian Superbike Championship and finished as high as sixth in a wildcard appearance at the 1998 Australian round of the Superbike World Championship. He then went on to ride some unreliable bikes in the 500cc MotoGP World Championship, including the BSL, Modenas and Pulse squads. He made 22 starts in 500 GP with a best finish of 13th at Mugello in 2001.